Mar 27, 2012

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Sine Mora Review

Sine Mora Review

Sine Mora is the newest addition to the shoot’em up genre for Xbox LIVE Arcade, joining hits like Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun. Proudly showcasing it’s influences, Sine Mora blends classic shmup controls with time-based mechanics, creating a unique take on the genre. But with Cave cornering the market on bullet-hell shmups and a somewhat lukewarm reception towards the titles as a whole, could Grasshopper Manufacture’s Sine Mora be successful?

Sine Mora truly has a style unlike any other shmup I’ve ever played. Aside from the absolutely gorgeous levels, the overall design is dieselpunk inspired as is the majority of enemies. While it’s quite simple to gush about how pretty the levels are, the characters themselves ooze style and provide a surprisingly compelling story. Though shmups are hardly known for their lengthy narratives, Sine Mora has one of the best and often confusing tales I’ve ever experienced. Following a group of anthropomorphic characters (animals), players discover the truth about the genocide of an entire civilization. Throughout the campaign, play switches between different characters further delving into both their psyche, as well as their individual motives in regards to their upcoming actions. One character is looking for a way to go back in time to prevent the murder of his son, while another is looking for a reason behind the horrible genocide. The story often gets confusing (likely due to the Hungarian dialect) and perhaps may be a little lengthier then expected, but putting together a well-written plot for a shmup is applauded and not seen very often in the genre. Of course, there will be those out there that simply brush over the story looking for some decent old-school action and in that regard, Sine Mora delivers.

As stated above, Sine Mora is a horizontal shooter that provides classic gameplay with a time-based focus. Unlike traditional shooters, time is the ultimate factor in whether players will fail or succeed. Instead of having a health bar, taking damage sheds precious seconds off of your clock and upon reaching zero, your time expires, resulting in a death. Collecting specific tokens can increase your time, as does destroying enemies, which changes the way one would play this shmup. Traditionally, with bullet-hell titles, dodging enemy fire is often a main focus, resulting in blind shooting, allowing many enemies the chance to get away unscathed (unless of course you’re one of these players). With Sine Mora, however,¬†players may be forced to fly through bullets in order to land shots on enemies due to time-constraints. Should you risk getting damaged and possibly losing a hard-earned power-up in order to deal a boss-killing shot? Or perhaps stay back and focus on dodging bullets, risking the potential of time gradually depleting? With an added ability to slow time down and a bevy of power-up tokens to collect, the gameplay itself is quite unique to the genre and provides a welcome change to shmups.

Of course these changes would be for null if the encompassing level design and controls weren’t up to par. Thankfully, Grasshopper Manufacture did an excellent job providing well designed levels and near perfect controls. Traversing the hazards, while difficult, is smooth enough due to the tight controls. Levels themselves are vivid, with lush backgrounds, well thought-out hazards, and eye-popping boss battles that will take your skills to the test. Throughout the campaign there are some areas that must be navigated very carefully, with one wrong turn spelling immediate death regardless of time left on players’ clocks. It’s in these moments that the ability to slow time show its worth, making these segments far more manageable (though still difficult). Make no mistake though, the ability can only be used sparingly since its powerup tokens are hard to come by and often times the fear of wasting the power stopped me from using it during crucial moments. Of course, the majority of the game (outside of the tutorial) can be played without ever touching the ability so purists have no need to worry about that. Then there are the traditional elements like sub-weapons, weapon upgrade tokens to collect, and various points to earn in order to boost your leaderboard ranking. Though a playthrough on normal mode can be accomplished within a few hours, various unlockables, higher scores, and achievements will keep fans entertained for days to come. Accomplishing certain tasks will increase your “Rank,” allowing new unlocks and achievements to earn. And if the narrative just doesn’t catch your attention, an arcade mode is readily available so players can focus solely on the action.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Sine Mora and can easily see myself revisiting the game later on, this isn’t to say that I didn’t have issues with it. For as gorgeous as the levels and overall game can be, often times the background confused me during integral moments. For instance, enemies more often then not shoot red and blue colored bullets at players that are traditional, bright, and simple enough to detect as harmful. Unfortunately, during certain levels the bullets can blend in with the bright backgrounds, resulting in near unavoidable attacks from enemies. Also, the background itself can often be misleading, with many objects that appear to be blockades actually being pretty set pieces players can just fly past. Given how insane the difficulty can get at times, these two problems add more issues that I feel weren’t intentional, making an already hard game even harder. Though I personally had no problems with the enemy design, I can easily see people taking issue with some enemies not being creative (ships, train, big bugs). Lastly, the length of the game may not be enough to warrant a purchase from casual shmup fans, since as I said above, the campaign can be finished in a few hours. If you’re not one to revisit shooters, practice, and work at getting higher scores, then this may not be a worthy purchase for you. Of course, the above problems shouldn’t be issues for shmup fans, but the fact that they’re present was worthy of a mention.

As a whole, Sine Mora is by far the best shoot’em up I’ve played since Deathsmiles. The levels are fun and well designed, controls are precise, and the bosses are epic. The lack of multiplayer may turn off some people as will the price ($15), but do yourself a favor and at least check out the trial. Whether you’re a shmup fan or not, Sine Mora is an excellent title that everyone should check out.

Sine Mora
Platform: 360
Genre: Shoot 'em up
Release Date: 03/21/12
Developer: Digital Reality & Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Xbox Live Arcade
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
MSRP: 1200 MSP ($15)